He’s planted fish, built docks and literally wrote the book on Snohomish County angling.
And now after 50 years of work benefiting fish and recreation, Bob Heirman has been named a Volunteer of the Year by the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife.
“There’s nobody that deserves that more,” says Mark Spada, a fellow member of the Snohomish Sportsmen’s Club as well as a tackle rep for Yakima Bait. “And for a guy in his 70s, he still does it all.”
“Coho fry plants, trout plants, building docks, work parties — whatever our club does, it’s always around Bob,” Spada says.
Heirman’s accomplishments were also recognized by Phil Anderson, interim WDFW director.
“He has worked closely as a volunteer and group leader on numerous WDFW projects that include lake and stream fish plants, handicapped fish docks construction and maintenance, fish access development and redevelopment, salmon derbies, legislative lobbying, habitat enhancement projects, public speaking, and educational programs in schools and throughout the fish community,” Anderson said, as reported by the Snohomish Times. “His accomplishments are numerous, including the preservation of the Bob Heirman Wildlife Park and Lord’s Hill Park.”
In fact, as this year’s pink salmon run builds in the Snohomish, anglers may find themselves drawn to a wide bend in the river near the burg of Cathcart. Known as Thomas’ Eddy, at one time the area was a gravel mine, then a cattle ranch and was going to be developed for housing.
But, led by Heirman, the Snohomish Sportsman Club campaigned to “preserve public access to one of the most popular steelhead fishing spots on the river,” according to Snohomish County Parks & Recreation. Today it’s known as the Bob Heirman Wildlife Preserve at Thomas’ Eddy, and is enjoyed by not just anglers but nature walkers, school kids and bird watchers alike.
(Before vehicle access was gated off, yours truly took his old Dodge Charger down onto the flat, then almost couldn’t get back up the steep, rutted path.)
Heirman’s “Snohomish, My Beloved County: An Angler’s Anthology” is “very, very interesting, the history of fishing in Snohomish County for the last 50, 60 years,” notes Spada.
But it’s a sad to compare how things were then to today, says Eric Bell, a resident of the Granite Falls. “They had rivers and streams back then that I drive over everyday that used to be full of salmon and stealhead and I can’t imagine anything living in them.”
Spada adds that Heirman wrote two other books — one on his railroad years, another of poetry — as well as helps out at senior centers.
“He’s one of a kind,” says Spada.
Anglers, hunters and others like Heirman combined to volunteer 134,000 hours of their time last year to WDFW.
Valued at $15 an hour, “That’s 2 million dollars of work that wouldn’t have been done otherwise,” says the agency’s deputy director Joe Stohr in Olympia. “There’s a huge passion for the resources.”
Volunteers spent 35,057 hours working for the Enforcement Program, 14,936 hours with the Wildlife Program and 8,943 hours with the Fish Program. Hunter Ed volunteers tallied over 33,000 hours.
Some of the most biggest efforts were made at the Loo-Wit Wildlife Area at Mt. St. Helens (1,465 hours) and the Issaquah Hatchery (3,362 hours).
Other WDFW volunteers of the year include:
Jerry Ponti, who operates a veterinary clinic east of Spokane, has treated hundreds of wild animals along with pets and livestock over the past 30 years. Wildlife biologists have long relied on Ponti to care for sick and injured deer, raccoons, eagles, bobcats and other wildlife.
Mike Braaton, of Castle Rock, who has spent hundreds of hours over the past decade planting elk forage, pulling scotch broom and conducting wildlife surveys on WDFW projects at the Mount St. Helens Wildlife Area. A professional mechanic, he has helped to keep project equipment running and has personally secured several grants for work at the wildlife area.
Bill Butler, of Cheney, who first volunteered with WDFW in 1964 and spent more than two decades helping staff at the Spokane Hatchery spawn rainbow trout. A longtime member of the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council and the Bighorn Foundation, he also has coordinated efforts to restore upland game habitat and promote outdoor education.
Charles (“Stan”) Staniforth, of Bellevue, who has tallied thousands of hours leading tours and teaching schoolchildren about salmon at the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery. He also helps hatchery staff clean incubation trays, tally fish and maintain the facility.
Organization of the Year: Since the Okanogan Valley Land Council was established in 2002, it has worked with six landowners to protect nearly 2,000 acres of native shrub-steppe and riparian habitat from development by securing easements on the properties. Using agricultural easements, the land trust also provided similar protection for a 1,025-acre cattle ranch and 600 acres in the Okanogan Highlands.
Educator of the Year: Scott Olson, a principal and instructor at the Tonasket Alternative School, and George Thornton, a teacher with the Oroville School District. Working together, the two educators engaged their students in a photo-monitoring project, designed to assess environmental changes in the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area. Students developed an understanding of local history, area botany, photography, global positioning system (GPS) skills and other disciplines.
Landowners of the Year include:
Jack Burkhalter, a lifelong resident of Pacific County, who has worked with state fishery managers for 30 years to establish and maintain viable populations of salmon in the various streams flowing through his property.
Richard and Kathy Rice and family, who own a 10,000-acre farm in Douglas County. The Rice family has worked for the past decade to preserve and improve hundreds of acres of habitat for wildlife, notably Columbian sharp-tailed grouse.
Karen and Tony Spane, who own a 300-acre dairy farm in the Marshland Diking District near Everett. The Spanes were early supporters of a proposal by the City of Everett to restore a portion of the diking district as chinook salmon habitat, helping others to see the benefits of the project for both salmon and outdoor recreation.